Science in Society Archive

UK Supermarkets to label GM Soybean ‘Sustainable’

Irresponsible labelling of GM soybean by British supermarkets aims to deceive the public over the true hazards of GM crops Dr. Eva Sirinathsinghji

A string of British supermarket giants have signed up to the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) including Asda, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, and most recently Sainsbury’s. This scheme will result in GM soybean being labelled ‘sustainable’ despite mounting scientific evidence of health and environmental hazards, and threats to global food security.

The Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS), first proposed by WWF in 2005 is a multi-stake holder forum on sustainable soybean production (see [1] Round Table on Responsible Soy a Green Wash, SiS 47). It consists of many members involved in the soybean industry including the huge multinational corporations Shell, BP, Cargill, Syngenta and Monsanto, the major GMO producer. The prime motivation for this initiative is the promotion of GM soybean food products and biofuels to the European market. The human rights and environmental violations of these companies are alarming, making their claim that GM soybean production is ‘responsible’ or ‘sustainable’ unconvincing to say the least. Consistently, Conservation International, a US-based charity was recently caught in a sting operation where it offered to green wash a huge military arms corporation, further disgracing another member of the RTRS [2].

The criteria for this label include wildlife protection, responsible pesticide use and respect for worker’s rights. By definition, a broad spectrum weed killer – glyphosate (or Roundup) - that not only targets weeds, but other beneficial plants, animals and microorganisms is not sustainable, nor can it be used responsibly. It is therefore impossible to honour the first two criteria for the ‘sustainable’ labelling of GM produce.

In reality, the production of GM crops has led to the spread of pesticide-resistant super weeds (see [3] Roundup Ready Sudden Death, Superweeds, Allergens…SiS 28), and (ironically) increased the use of pesticides. It has also increased crop pests, reduced biodiversity, contaminated non-GM farms, and shown to be unsafe to eat by animals, and therefore most possibly, humans.  Although there is worryingly little toxicology data performed on consumption of GM foods, successive animal feeding trials by independent scientists and evidence from farmworkers exposed to GM crops in the fields have been raising serious concerns as reviewed in [4, 5] (GM Food Nightmare Unfolding in the Regulatory Sham, I-SIS scientific publication;  GM is Dangerous and Futile, SiS 40). A recent Canadian medical study found Bt toxin as well as glyphosate (or its metabolites) circulating in the blood of women as well as unborn babies eating an average Canadian diet. The transgene product is not degraded in the gut as testified by GM manufacturers and safety regulators [6].

Recently, a senior US scientist warned of a novel pathogen associated glyphosate tolerant GM crops including GM soybean (see [7, 8] Emergency! Pathogen New to Science Found in Roundup Ready GM Crops? , Scientist Defends Claim of New Pathogen Linked to GM Crops, SiS 50). A leaked letter written by Dr. Don Huber, Professor Emeritus, Purdue University, to the USDA expressed deep concern for this pathogen that was highly enriched in transgenic crops, and apparently associated with devastating crops diseases and high rates of infertility and miscarriages in animals. The pathogen was discovered by an international community of researchers, and the work is due to be submitted for publication in a matter of weeks.

The herbicide kills beneficial bacteria such as nitrogen-fixing rhizobia, while increasing the presence of pathogenic microorganisms [9]. Well over 150 scientific papers have already been published on the toxic effects of glyphosate on soil and crops (see [10] Scientists Reveal Glyphosate Poisons Crops and Soil,  SiS 47)

With regard to workers’ rights and human rights, herbicides have been shown to have frightening impacts on human health, including birth defects in the children of herbicide users (see [11] Lab Study Establishes Glyphosate Link to Birth Defects SiS 48). More recently, a local Argentinean government report documented tripling in numbers of childhood cancers from 2000 to 2009, and quadrupling of birth defects in agrochemical use zones (see news report [10]). The report also states “During the days when the spraying [of herbicides] occurs one can notice immediately health issues such as eye and skin irritation, allergies, dizziness, nausea, etc. On the days that follow the spraying, other issues that have to do with the digestive and hepatic (liver) systems occur”. It is clear that GM soybean cannot meet the last requirement for the RTRS’ ‘sustainable’ labelling – protection of workers’ rights.

Furthermore, large-scale industrial GM monoculture is bankrupting small farmers, restricting access to non-GM seeds, destroying rainforests and monopolising the food industry, dramatically increasing poverty in farming communities. While the biotech/agribusiness industries promoted the 126 percent expansion of Argentinean GM soybean production in one decade, the number of farmers has dramatically declined. In just 4 years the number of farmers went down by a quarter, accompanied by reductions in staples such as dairy, maize, wheat and fruit (see [12] GM Soybean Disaster in Latin America, SiS 28).

The UK consumer will not be deceived by the ‘responsible soy’ label. Most GM soybean that is currently supplied to the UK is used as animal feed, and consumers are already opposed to that [13]. To adopt the ‘responsible soy’ label is to add insult on injury, and supermarkets may face a consumer backlash.

Article first published 31/05/11



References

  1. Ho MW. Round Table on Responsible Soy a green wash. Science in Society 47, 26-27, 2010.
  2. “Undercover with Conservation International”, Don’t Panic Online Magazine, 4th May 2011  http://www.dontpaniconline.com/DPTV/undercover-with-conservation-international
  3. Ho MW, Cummins J. Roundup Ready sudden death, superweeds, allergens… Science in Society 28, 26-27, 2005.
  4. Ho MW, Cummins J and Saunders PT. GM food nightmare in the regulatory sham. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 2007, 19, 66-77.
  5. Ho MW. GM is dangerous & futile. Science in Society 40, 4-7, 2008.
  6. Aris A, Leblanc S. Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. Reprod Toxicol. 2011, Article in press
  7. Ho MW. Emergency! Pathogen New to Science Found in Roundup Ready GM Crops? Science and Society 50, to appear
  8. Kremer RJ and Means NE. Glyphosate and glyphosate-resistant crop interactions with rhizosphere microorganisms. European Journal of Agronomy 2009, 31, 153-61.
  9. Ho MW. Scientists Reveal Glyphosate Poisons Crops and Soil, Science and Society 47, 10-11, 2010
  10. Ho MW. Lab Study Establishes Glyphosate Link to Birth Defects Science and Society 48, 32-33, 2010
  11. “Chaco government report confirms link between glyphosate/agrochemicals and cancer/birth defects in Argentina”, GM Watch, 14 September 2010 http://www.gmwatch.eu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12481:reports-official-report-confirms-correlation
  12. Ho MW, GM Soybean Disaster in Latin America Science and Society 28, 19-21, 2005
  13. “Summary of 2010 GfK/NOP poll on labels for GM-fed products”, GM Freeze. June 2010  http://www.gmfreeze.org/page.asp?ID=436&iType=1083

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There are 2 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

James T. Fisher Comment left 1st June 2011 09:09:51
The primary aim of labeling is to inform consumers whether or not a modified microorganism or plant has been included during the production. You can learn more about GMO labeling at http://geneticallyengineeredfoodnews.com

Rory Short Comment left 2nd June 2011 14:02:39
Could the supermarkets not be taken to court for deliberately mis-leading advertising?

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